Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review
27th Session of the UPR working Group,
By Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Feb 23 2021(Nyamilepedia) — Joint Submission by refugee led organizations and refugee communities in Uganda under the umbrella of “Global Refugee Leaders Forum” (GRLF) which is a Symposium bringing vocal refugees together in Uganda and in the region in order to address refugee issues at various levels, to amplify the voices of refugees during decision making process and promote the rights of refugees as a basis for refugee protection.
- The last five years from (2016-2021) have been marked by the increase of refugees in Uganda from about 1,000,000 in 2016 to about 1,200,000 by the end of 2020 representing 1.5 % of the entire Ugandan Population based on the 2014 National Census which attributed it to more than 37 million. The majority of these refugees come mainly from countries at war in neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Somali where Uganda deployed its army to support either directly or indirectly one side of the belligerent and in Burundi which was affected by political instability since 2015 and others countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea among others. Refugees are hosted in camps called settlements while others live urban areas.
- This report was compiled through information gathered from refugees in Kampala, Rwamanja, Kyaka II, Kyangwali, Invimpi, Bidibidi and Nakivale settlement camps by consulting refugee leaders at different levels and Zoom meetings, whatsup phone calls and phone calls since in October 2020, January and February 2021. We also managed to hold 3 focus groups in Kampala bringing together 30 different refugee opinion leaders from Rwanda, Burundi, D R C, South Sudan, and Darfur and a total of 96 other refugee leaders were consulted through social media mainly Whatsup and phone calls in different settlement camps and then information was also collected through our networks in different refugee settings.
The refugee rights and legal frameworks in Uganda
- The refugee rights are spelled out from international legal framework mainly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations 1951 Convention on Refugees, regional framework which Uganda is signatory and which are domesticated in the Refugee Act 2006, Uganda also established a Directorate in charge of refugees under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which also works in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR Uganda) and other agencies.
- Uganda Foreign Policy as cause for many refugees
We cannot boast ourselves for welcoming refugees but we should feel proud for ensuring that people do not run away from their villages. But since 1990 up to now Uganda Foreign Policy in the Region has forced many people to run way and thousands of others being killed and massacred. Since 1990-1994: Uganda supported rebels which took power in Rwanda at the cost of genocide and this forced thousands of refugees to fly to Uganda, in 1996 up to now Uganda has supported various rebel groups fighting in D.R.Congo as indicated by different UN Reports, up to now Ugandan Army is still deployed in South Sudan to support one faction in the conflict, and the presence of Ugandan army in Somalia has complicated more the situation.
Instead of praising Uganda for hosting refugees, the International Community and Development Partners and donors should have imposed sanctions for forcing many people to run away from their villages and immediate economic sanctions should be been imposed to Uganda. In this process efforts should be made to ensure that Uganda is not supported in the name of refugees but every time Uganda should be hold accountable.
Uganda should stop any wars against its neighbours and any military intervention in any country should be done through the United Nations Security Council or the African Union,
The International Community should impose sanctions to Uganda and do all that it take to ensure that Uganda does not continue to force many people to run away from their villages,
The United Nations should discourage the move to keep refugees in Uganda for long and the move to brandish refugees as a tool to seek money from the International Community,
Abusing refugee rights during COVID19
During COVID19 asylum seekers from Bunia in DRCongo were denied to entre Uganda especially those who run away from wars in Congo, more than 600 asylum seekers were camped in Zombo District on the border between Uganda and D.R.Congo because they were denied to enter and Ugandan Army blocked all the entry points, during the period of March 18th to August 2020 many asylum seekers from DRCongo were denied entry in Uganda on excuses of COVID19 in what was viewed as enforcing Presidential Directives,
But also during COVID19 at least 2 refugees were murdered by security operatives in April in Nakivale in April 2020, and one in Kampala in May 2020, and one in Mubende in May 2020. A total number of 29 refugees and asylum seekers were arrested because of breaking the directives of the lockdown and many have not yet benefited from the Presidential pardon because they lacked money which is asked in order to move out from the Prison.
During COVID, still while the Government of Uganda embarked on the distribution of food and masks to vulnerable people in greater Kampala, most of refugees where deliberately excluded for this food and that was seen as a clear discrimination which could endanger the lives of so many refugees. But also UNHCR Uganda started distributing money to refugees in Kampala but many among refugees have never received their money and not much is being to find out why.
We also observed the destruction of refugee properties in Nakivale by the Camp Commandant in March 2020 and nothing much was done to hold him accountable,
We call upon the government to investigate and hold accountable all those who abused refugees during the period of COVID19,
We call upon the Government to ensure that those who murdered refugees during COVID 19 are quickly arrested and sentenced, and that the families of those who died are quickly compensated, and that urgent humanitarian assistance is granted to now,
We call upon the Government to render effective the release of all refugees who were arrested and being detained because of violating COVID19 Presidential Directives,
We call upon the Government to facilitate free entry to asylum seekers in Uganda especially those running away from ways and persecutions,
We call upon the Government to investigate and hold account the Camp Commandant of Nakivale Mr. Mugenyi for his various abuses against refugees during COVID19 especially the destruction of refugee properties and the killing of refugees in Nakivale,
Abuses against refugees during the election period
Generally Ugandans are suspicious against refugees and believe that many refugees do vote for President Museveni, this is not true but in most cases refugees are amalgamated to other foreigners who come to Uganda just because of voting. Congolese and Rwandans are the most victims of this perception, because some people do always cross the border to come to vote in Uganda.
During the campaigns 3 refugees were beaten in Kampala, and in November during the arrest of Bobi Wine one refugee was killed and 2 more others injured with bullets. Surprisingly these refugees were not even recorded by the Police and were not mentioned among the victims much as they Police was in contact with them. As the Government granted assistance to the victims these refugees did not benefit from in up to now because they are not known, the Police indicated that these refugees were not Ugandans and therefore should not be recorded.
Uganda should ensure the protection and security of refugees during elections,
The Ruling party in Uganda should desist from mobilising refugees to vote for president Museveni,
The Government should ensure that refugees who were victims of various abuses during elections are compensated and other forms of reparations are put in place, this should start with official recognition by the government and then community work to make a list of those who have been victims,
We call upon the government to embark on masse education about the presence of refugees in Uganda and how the host communities can help in their protection,
Refugee security military recruitment
- While Uganda has international obligation to ensure the protection of refugees on its territory, Congolese refugees were recruited into M23 rebel group and joined other rebel groups, and benefited the military training from Ugandan army officials in 2019 and 2020, most of fighters in Minembwe South Kivu DRCongo do come to Uganda for military trainings and go back and acquire a refugee status in order to move freely in Uganda, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters are both Ugandans and Congolese who are fully operational in Uganda, some among them have a refugee status in Uganda, this information was also confirmed by the security forces of both countries D.R.Congo and during a field visit of top army officers from both side in KyakaII and Kyangwali refugee settlements camps in July 2020. The period 2016 up 2020 was marked by various secret recruitment of Congolese into rebel groups to fight in different places in the East especially Bunia, Beni and Minembwe. This same period also was marked by various assassinations and killings of refugees more than (20 refugees were killed by security services in Uganda) among them (3) South Sudanese in Bidibidi in 2018, (2) Congolese in Rhino in 2019, (4 South Sudanese and one Congolese in Invimpi) in 2017 and 2019, (3 South Sudanese, 7 Congolese and 1 Burundian in Kampala in 2020 -2021), (3 Congolese in Nakivale in 2020). We do observe that during this period of 2016 -2021 the government of Uganda did a lot of good work to end the kidnapping and deportation of refugees back to their countries and this was due to the changes within the Police and at the Office of Prime Minister Department for Refugees.
We call upon the government of Uganda to put to the end the habit of recruiting Congolese refugees into rebels groups while in Uganda, and ensure that Uganda which is host of refugees does not at the same time host Congolese rebel groups,
We call upon the Government of Uganda to end the practice of granting refugee status to people who come for Military Operations especially those who come from various parts in east of D.R.Congo, who after acquiring refugee status are deployed back on frontline in D.R.Congo,
Uganda should ensure the physical security of all refugees but particularly Congolese refugees and South Sudanese who are often a target by their governments and put in place specific measures of protection for those at risk through quick interventions within less than 24 hours,
Uganda should seriously investigate the circumstances surrounding the killings of various refugees and bring to books the perpetrators, compensate the survivors and victims’ through a urgent reparation process without delay,
- Lack of protection for vocal refugees
Refugee leaders, refugee opinion leaders, refugee human rights defenders have been active in Uganda doing all what they can to ensure that refugees are hosted in dignity, their efforts have expanded the protection space to many refugees in their communities. But they have remained exposed to various abuses and their lives are often at risk in Uganda. The perpetrators are mostly UNHCR Officers, government officials and in most time they use the security services to implement all forms of abuses against vocal refugees. The Police, the Flying Squad and the Anti- Terrorists Unit have played the frontline. Since 2016 up to now 7 vocal refugees were put incommunicado detentions in unknown places, 5 vocal refugee were arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department on orders from Hon. Musa Ecweru the Minister in charge of refugees, and 10 are hiding from the threats by camps commandants (2 in Kyangwali, and 8 in Nakivale). In this process Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos has been arrested 23 times in Uganda, Uhusiano Joseph has been arrested 7 times, Marcel Rasta has been arrested 5 times, Kazadi William has been arrested twice and denied to be verified and renew his refugee card just because he is vocal. Most of those active refugees are blackmailed, cannot even access humanitarian relief and even their resettlement process blocked by UNHCR. Francis Mandengu a refugee from DRCongo was denied a refugee status because he covered with his Camera refugee children demonstration in 2010, up to now OPM have not granted him a refugee status.
We call upon the Government to create a favourable environment in which vocal refugees can operate from in line with the International Convention of the protection of human rights defenders,
We call upon the Government of Uganda to abide with its obligations to ensure the freedom of conscience and thoughts to vocal refugees,
We call upon the government of Uganda to consider refugee human rights defenders as partners in the desire to ensure the protection of refugees,
We call upon the UNHCR Uganda to put a particular attention on the protection needs of vocal refugees,
We call upon UNHCR Uganda to do all what it may take to end the criminalization of vocal refugees, stop all blackmail against them, and offer them services they need, but also at the same time mobilize and encourage other organizations to support vocal refugees,
We call upon Development partners and human rights organizations to put a special priority on the protection of refugee human rights defenders in Uganda, including the options for relocation to other countries and resettlement,
We call upon the resettlement countries mainly the USA, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden among other to make priority the resettlement of refugee human rights defenders and put in place mechanisms where they can easily contacts the Embassies and seek for resettlement directly,
- Resettlement to the third country
Refugees are given opportunities to go for resettlement mainly in the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are the mainly countries which receive refugees. The most beneficiaries of resettlement are refugees from D.R.Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, South Sudan, and few from Rwanda.
However resettlement in Uganda is only provided by UNHCR and it is one among the services which are not fully known, characterized by bribe and corruption and in many cases granted on favor and influence. Unfortunately UNHCR has not done enough to end corruption and bribe in this system as those who have used money are quickly resettled at the expenses of the poor, resettlement in Uganda is no longer a means for protection but it is more a business deal. Over the year since 2005 up to now UNHCR Uganda has not granted resettlement to vocal refugee leaders especially those who are engaged in the promotion of refugee rights most of them are blocked by either UNHCR Protection Teams of UNHCR Resettlement Officers, and also most of whistleblowers who have raised their voices against bribery in the resettlement process have seen their process for resettlement put on pending or hold for more than 7 years and above, and no explanation is given, but at the same time they are being used as example in order to warn other refugees who could think about human rights. At least 10 Active Vocal Refugees in Uganda have seen their process for resettlement put on hold for long and their families’ members being told by UNHCR resettlement officers that they will not go because of the work of the vocal refugee leader.
Congolese refugees in Uganda are among those complaining about such system of resettlement based on influence and bribe, many refugees from Burundi and Rwanda registered as Congolese and in many cases they are visible as beneficiaries of this resettlement in the name of Congolese, but also cases of Ugandans who hold refugee status and who are resettled are common.
In response to this UNHCR has only transferred her officers who are involved in bribe instead of sending them courts, while UNHCR has called for refugees to come up with evidence, those who witness are blacklisted and denied resettlement while those who bribe are quickly resettled in order to ensure there is no much evidence.
Despite the willingness of countries to receive refugees, UNHCR Uganda has never been able to give the number of refugees who are wanted by the countries, mainly the USA, Canada and Norway are given less than what they want to get. UNHCR Uganda claims of lack of enough human resource but also there is no will from UNHCR to resettle many refugees at ago.
UNHCR Uganda embarked on a project of refugees who have been in Uganda since the period of 1996-2008, countries like Norway, USA, and Canada were willing to receive these refugees but many were not given even a chance for their cases to be submitted to the country, some refugee whistle-blowers were just blocked by UNHCR Resettlement Officer especially Gemma Woods and Angelique both based in Kampala office.
UNHCR Uganda should make available information about resettlement to all refugees and put in place steps and clear process for refugees who wish to engage UNHCR Uganda for resettlement,
UNHCR Uganda should quickly review and process the resettlement process for vocal refugees especially those whose cases have been put on hold because of their activism on various refugee issues, this will show many refugees that being a refugee human rights defender is not a crime,
Countries which resettle refugees mainly the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway among others should quickly investigate bribery and traffic of influence which surrounds refugee resettlement in Uganda,
These countries should also investigate the category of refugees they are given by UNHCR Uganda especially their origin,
These countries should prioritize the resettlement of vocal refugees and refugee human rights defenders and other whistle-blowers, and put in place options where they can submit their applications directly to Embassies and other Diplomatic Representations,
These countries should also partner with other organizations which can facilitate resettlement to those who cannot access it from UNHCR and put online options for refugees who want to apply for resettlement,
The Government of Uganda and UNHCR should put in place a complaint desk to review cases of those who have challenges during the resettlement process,
- Governing refugees in Uganda
In response to refugee participation in decision making, governance issues, and leadership at all levels, Uganda introduced the Refugee Welfare Councils (RWC) both in camps and in urban areas. In camps these RWC lack independency from the camp authorities and their levels of influencing decisions making is very limited, sometimes they are part of the human rights abuse regime and sometimes they are perceived as a government militia but they play roles of intelligence services to the refugee regime. While the RWCs do exist in camps, in urban areas like Kampala they were stopped since 2010 up to now. As refugees struggle to set up their own independent refugee led organizations and associations, they are often ignored by the regime during decision making. Refugees have been denied chance to learn about issues like human rights, leadership, all civic rights, accountability, justice and other relevant topics for their human development. Refugee have limited access to press and media, fragmented ways to access and give information, and totally put aside from national issues.
In areas where such RWCs were elected especially in Bidibidi, Kyangwali and Rwamwanja camps most of them are only those put in place by the Government and it was the government to choose who should be a candidate and who should not, in the process all those who are critical and vocal were denied opportunities to stand for elections. In Kyangwali for example Joseph Uhusiano was denied because he is just perceived as critical to OPM in charge of refugees. In Kampala instead of organizing elections, OPM put in place structure of people who are obedient to them and who are used for various things including tracking of fellow refugees. The example of the Douglas Bulongo who is the President of the Congolese Refugee Community in Uganda is often used by the Security Services to arrest vocal refugees who they want to suffocate,
To restore and organize regular, credible and inclusive elections of refugee leaders in all refugee settings and ensure they work independently from the refugee regime especially to remain independent from OPM and UNHCR, and they are given quality training skills in leadership, human rights a governance issues by independent qualified organizations,
To ensure that more of human rights education sessions are offered to refugees which will liberate them from fear, than the current trend of telling refugees only about criminal Code (law) which creates more fear among refugees. Encourage refugees to take part in different community development issues including leadership where they can contribute their skills,
To have a specific parliamentarian committee which looks at the issues of refugees in Uganda, and a particular Refugee Rights Desk which monitors the refugee rights situation in Uganda,
To put in place a mechanism where refugees and the refugee regime agree on what should be the priorities, mechanism to evaluate the activities and the implementation process. And to put in place mechanism where all actors in the refugee affairs are accountable to people as well as their donors and communication options between the beneficiaries and the donors,
Donors and development partners should be inclusive during their field visits to Uganda and should interact with refugees in their diversity especially they should clearly put on their agenda a specific meetings with vocal refugees in various areas they do visit,
The Government of Uganda should ensure that GRRF meetings are inclusive by bringing in vocal refugees on various issues,
Refugee leaders in their various capacities should be supported financially so that they able to do the work, and donors should put in place a specific funding opportunities to support them,
To involve the Uganda Electoral Commission in the organization of refugee leaders elections at all levels,
- Freedom of movement in the region and of Assembly
In 2019 refugees applied 3 times to the Inspector General of Police to grant them permission for demonstration in Kampala as means to express their grievances but permission was not granted on contrary the leaders started getting threats from the Minister in charge of refugees Hon. Hilary Onek and other threats from security operatives. Attempts by refugee to sit down and hold hunger strike at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR Uganda) have been violently stopped by the police and in most cases Police is called by UNHCR and the same UNHCR gives instructions to what should be done refugees. Most of refugees who have been brutalized and beaten at UNHCR Office during the period of 2016 – 2021 orders were given to Police by Brian Ramsey who is one among UNHCR Protection officers in Kampala. A total number of 79 refugees in 4 different camping a UNHCR Offices in Kampala have been brutally beaten, injured, women left necked, and put in lorries to various refugee camps, the leaders have been blacklisted and cannot get services anymore and in total 8 refugee leaders remain excluded from services. The use of violence is often a priority of UNHCR rather than responding to the needs of people, surprisingly UNHCR Uganda is composed with International Staffs who come from Developed Countries and Democratic Countries where the voices of people are given priorities, when people speak the leaders listen and act, this is not seen from UNHCR Staffs in Uganda.
Refugee should be given opportunities to express themselves through different non-violent ways including rallies, marching, sit in, hunger strikes among other non-violent mechanisms and the police should desist from using violence against peaceful demonstrations,
UNHCR Uganda should desist from calling the Police in order to brutalize refugees who are expressing themselves peacefully , and UNHCR should put in place mechanism to respond to the demands of refugees especially that most of these demands can easily be granted by UNHCR such as resettlement, food, education, health, and security protection,
The Uganda Police should stop brutalizing refugees at UNHCR Gates who are demanding for services especially when these refugees are not violent, and the Police should instead facilitate Dialogue between refugees and UNHCR,
We call upon the government to ensure that refugee opinion leaders are not stigmatized against accessing all available services because of their engagement in the promotion of refugee rights in Uganda. And particular review the situation of refugee human rights defenders in Uganda, to ensure their cases are given attention and their rights are fully respected.
On behalf of the above refugee led organization, I’m Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Founder | Global Refugee Leaders Forum
Refugee in Kampala Uganda
Contacts: Namirembe Resource Center, Lubaga Division, Kampala Uganda.
- O Box: 2551 Kampala Uganda, Tel: +256774516605/ Whatusp : +256758197767